The law of Moses ordained the celebration of several feasts. Christians with any familiarity with Scripture know of the Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Feast of Booths. They appear in the New Testament. It’s easy to miss the Feast of Trumpets in the Bible, however. The few Old Testament descriptions are short.
Modern Jews call it Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana begins the Jewish High Holy Days. Although the name is less than 2,000 years old, it corresponds to the ancient Feast of Trumpets.
Not only that, but the feast foreshadows the last days. We can understand all the New Testament references to trumpets better when we understand the Feast of Trumpets.
What is a trumpet in the Bible?
Today the trumpet is a musical instrument, familiar in bands and orchestras. But it has only been a musical instrument for a few hundred years. Before the invention of valves, trumpeters learned to play very high notes on a very long trumpet. That was the only part of the instrument’s range that provided a complete scale.
Earlier than that, trumpeters could only play the lower notes on the trumpet, which are far apart. The trumpet served as a signaling instrument. It lent dignity to civic ceremonies. In war, it was intended to frighten the enemy. Europeans learned much of their use of trumpets from the Arabs. Arabic culture has always had much in common with Hebrew culture.
European trumpets were at least made of metal. Instrument makers could make them the same length so that they could play in some kind of tune with each other. The earliest trumpets—and all the ones mentioned in the Old Testament—were made of rams’ horns. The Hebrew name is shofar. Rams’ horns don’t come in standard sizes. No two can make exactly the same pitches. More than one shofar playing at once makes a hideous racket.
Consider the Israelites marching around Jericho with seven priests blowing trumpets. For the Israelites, they signified the presence of God with the marchers. For the residents of Jericho cowering behind the walls, they must have been a terrifying sound.
The Israelites themselves had occasion to experience the terror of the sound of a trumpet earlier. In Exodus 19, they camped at Mt. Sinai, and Moses prepared them to meet God. Verse 16 says that they saw lightning and heard not only thunder but a loud trumpet blast. It made the people in the camp tremble with fear.
What is the Feast of Trumpets?
The Feast of Trumpets first appears in the Bible in Leviticus 23:23-25.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the Lord.” (ESV)
Numbers 29:1-6 prescribes the offerings for the Feast of Trumpets. Otherwise, the law says nothing more about it.
Like much of the rest of the law, the feast fell into disuse. Nehemiah 8-9 tells how Ezra began to read and explain the law—on the first day of the seventh month and therefore the Feast of Trumpets. The people wept as they realized their sin of neglecting the law, but Nehemiah reminded them that it was a time of rejoicing.
That occasion became the basis for the modern celebration, since named Rosh Hashana. It mixes the solemn recognition of sin with the joyful remembrance of God’s faithfulness and promise of reconciliation.
Rosh Hashana still features blasts on the shofar. Different signals convey different meanings. The celebration combines these in a prescribed sequence that adds up to 100 total blasts.
When is the Feast of Trumpets?
Rosh Hashana is often described as the Jewish New Year, yet the Feast of Trumpets in the Bible clearly happened on the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei). It was not the New Year then, but modern Judaism acknowledges four new year holidays. It still gives the months the same familiar names from the Bible, however.
The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, while the Gregorian calendar used worldwide today is a solar calendar. Lunar and solar cycles do not coincide, so the Gregorian date of the first day of Tishrei varies. It occurs sometime in September or October.
It’s also important to notice that the Feast of Trumpets in the Bible falls ten days before another prescribed feast: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
Many Jews use the month of Elul, the one immediately before Tishrei, as a month of preparation. In that way, it is comparable to the Christian seasons of Advent (preparation for Christmas) and Lent (preparation for Easter).
What does the Feast of Trumpets mean for Christians?
Jesus referred to trumpet blasts in Matthew 24:31. That entire chapter describes the end times, and the trumpets coincide with God’s gathering of his people: Israel and the church.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 describes that gathering in detail. Verse 16 says that Jesus himself will descend from heaven with the voice of an archangel and the sounding of God’s trumpet. Paul offered more detail later in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
The last trumpet? So far, the scriptures quoted have mentioned only one trumpet, but Revelation describes a sequence of seven trumpets. The last one sounds in Revelation 11:15: “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’”
The law of Moses prescribed seven feasts. In the spring, over a span of 50 days:
- The Feast of Passover
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread
- The Feast of First Fruits
- The Feast of Weeks (also known as Pentecost)
Jesus fulfilled the first two in his death and the third in his resurrection. The church was born on the fourth.
There are also three fall festivals over a span of two weeks:
- The Feast of Trumpets
- The Day of Atonement
- The Feast of Tabernacles
The rapture of the church, the Great Tribulation, and the establishment of God’s kingdom will fulfill these feasts.
The Christian church calendar does not observe the Feast of Trumpets. It does, however, look forward to the second coming of Christ. Studying the Feast of Trumpets can help us understand it in the context of the entire sweep of biblical history.
Rosh HaShanah—The Feast of Trumpets / Promises to Israel
Rosh Hashana: the Jewish new year and Feast of Trumpets / Jews for Jesus